One would imagine that the whole point of baking vegan would be in the interest of making something healthier. But no, for me, it’s just to ensure that the plant-based eaters among us can also access my baking. It’s also a challenging experiment for me, not unlike the attempts at gluten-free baking I sometimes undertake. Both work well enough, but I don’t eat any of it to be able to say for sure how successful these attempts are.
However, this time I took the vegan goods to a vegan acquaintance who was willing to give me an honest and detailed appraisal. I’d adapted my standard ANZAC biscuit, which looks deceptively healthy but isn’t, to be vegan, but this was simple. It was simply a matter of swapping regular butter for coconut oil, and this apparently worked beautifully. So much so that the vegan ANZAC biscuits were gone quickly with non-vegans praising them, and the vegan acquaintance only getting to enjoy one.
As for the chocolate cupcakes, it was reported that the cake itself was not unlike any standard vegan cupcake. Maybe a little dry, maybe not inspiring, but passable. This is mostly what I expected, but I also think that these cupcakes probably need to be eaten very soon after being baked (they can’t sit out for days, particularly uncovered, as was happening where I left them). Here is the vegan cupcake recipe I used, minus the pretzel flourishes…
It was however reported, quite against my expectation, that the frosting was superb. And I guessed – and this was confirmed – that vegan frosting is not always an easy thing to achieve. With taste and consistency being a bit fussy without butter or eggs, I gave it a lot of thought because many commercial vegan margarine substitutes just separate and don’t whip up well. And vegetable oils aren’t successful. You could just do a dark chocolate ganache topping, but that was not what I was after.
Finally I remembered the old days and the good old solutions my grandma favored. Her frosting recipe had nothing to do with veganism or healthy choices but had a lot more to do with what she had on hand and what ingredients she was used to working with. And that’s when I realized, ah yes, you can make frosting from solid vegetable shortening (i.e., something like Crisco). No it is not the healthiest solution, and vegetable shortening isn’t the easiest thing to find in Sweden. But find it I did, after doing a bit of reading online about how people use vegetable shortening to make light, fluffy frosting. It’s also a boon if you’re trying to have perfectly white frosting, which is impossible using butter. In my reading I realized that professional bakers often use Crisco to make frosting not only because it is so white but also because it is so stable and less fussy than butter icing.
As it happens, I was going for a chocolate frosting, so I whipped the vegetable shortening vigorously, added a lot of powdered sugar and a whole lot of vanilla extract and then alternated between unsweetened cocoa powder and hot coffee.
Vegan chocolate frosting with vegetable shortening recipe
2/3 cup all-vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (at least 1 teaspoon; I think I used much more)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups powdered sugar (approximate – work with it to get the balance you prefer)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 to 6 tablespoons milk (or hot coffee – I wanted a deeper, richer chocolate flavor, so I opted for coffee)
Beat shortening for several minutes; add vanilla and salt. Continue to beat on high speed until very fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, and begin to beat on low speed until incorporated. Add cocoa powder alternately with the milk or coffee, until you get everything mixed together well. Give it a taste to see if you need to adjust the ingredients for taste (more cocoa? more vanilla?)
Once you’ve got your flavor right, beat on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes (maybe more!). And frost!